You will agree with us that an ultrasonic machine can help in removing the encrusted dirt and grime on a piece of jewelry and restore its beauty and luster. However, if you have some old, expensive or delicate piece of jewelry that needs a good deal of tender loving care, you might be wondering whether the use of ultrasonic cleaner for jewelry is reasonable or not.
We understand that you don’t want to risk damaging your favorite piece all in the name of cleaning it but would love to keep it clean and looking pristine for decades to come. So, is an ultrasonic cleaner safe for your jewelry? What is ultrasonic cleaning and how do ultrasonic machines work? How can you clean your jewelry with ultrasonic cleaners without damaging it and should you even consider using this machine on your jewelries at all? The answers to all these questions are just a few lines away.
What Is Ultrasonic Cleaning?
Ultrasonic cleaning involves the use of ultrasonic cleaners to clean items such as jewelry, surgical instruments, engine parts, super delicate lenses, long rifles, and motherboards. The cleaner uses chemicals in an aqueous media and ultrasound waves to remove foreign particles and contaminants like oil, dirt, and tarnish and can even remove mold release agents and polishing compounds like rouge and Tripoli from your delicate pieces of jewelry.
The number of items you can clean with an ultrasonic cleaner is vast. However, your items must pass the two main “eligibility requirements” before you can clean them using this cleaning method. Ultrasonic cleaner scrubs dirt and contaminants off items and this will only happen in a liquid environment, so the items you intend to clean must be such that won’t get damaged by immersion.
The second basic requirement is that the item should be one that can be easily dried. This excludes items with absorbent materials, except those that can be easily dried with a blower. You can employ an Ultrasonic cleaning technique to remove common dirt, oily chemicals, grease, and engine sludge. However, this technique cannot remove viruses and spores, so you may need to sterilize your items after cleaning with an ultrasonic cleaner to remove such.
How Do Ultrasonic Machines Work on Jewelry?
At the heart of cleaning using the ultrasonic machine is the microbubble; actually, a lot of micro-bubbles. Alternating negative and positive pressure waves create these micro-bubbles as they move through the aqueous solution. This process is called Cavitation, which involves the formation of micro-bubbles (a cavity) in a liquid medium.
Have you ever seen a spinning boat propeller and the foam it creates in water? If yes, then that’s cavitation in action. However, ultrasonic cleaners do not use propellers since the bubbles created by spinning propellers are neither microscopic nor powerful enough and cannot be used to clean. Instead, they use amplified vibrations from high-frequency transducers – an operation that is similar to that of a loudspeaker but occurs at higher frequencies.
High-frequency sound waves usually within 20 – 400 kHz are sent into the liquid media (solution tank) which then create these alternating pressure waves which in turn creates the cavitation processes. The bubbles that are created in this process implode or collapse as fast as they are formed (millions of times in a second), thereby producing great vacuum energy in the form of pressure and heat. This combination of pressure, heat, and the velocity at which the bubbles travels will knock the debris loose thus, giving ultrasonic cleaners its cleaning power and capability.
So, when you place your jewelry or a dirty object in your portable ultrasonic machine, cavitation happens near it. The implosion event happening around your jewelry or the dirty object will produce a vacuum action by creating a tiny pressure wave (about one-tenth of the size of the bubble). These waves then goes deep into the nook and cranny of your item, breaks up or dislodges the dirt, grime, oil, and other foreign particles on your item and gently lift them away. This makes ultrasonic cleaning suitable for cleaning the parts of your jewelry or other items that cannot be reached when it comes to cleaning them manually.
Is Ultrasonic Cleaning Safe for Diamonds?
Yes! Diamonds are very hard and are even the hardest substance on earth, so they’ll clean up well. Sometimes, you may need to remove the encrusted dirt on your diamond ring or other diamond jewelry with an ultrasonic jewelry cleaner, but you’ll have to proceed with caution. Although this stone is very hard and durable, cleaning it in an ultrasonic jewelry cleaner can be risky as it can damage it or even shake it loose from the chip, mountings or girdle where it is set next to another.
Before you place your diamond in your Ultrasonic jewelry cleaner, you should refer to its grading report to know whether your diamond has been treated or not. If your diamond is included or contains feathers, you need to proceed cautiously. This is because diamonds with significant inclusions can get damaged as the vibrations in the ultrasonic cleaner can worsen their internal flaws.
The rule of thumb is that diamonds with big and visible inclusions have a higher risk of damage when cleaned with an ultrasonic machine and the nature of the inclusion determines the level of the risk. Although most diamond jewelry is not severely included, it is good to proceed with caution if the inclusion is visible and you might choose to use the help of professional cleaning service in such cases.
At times, you might think that diamonds with enhanced clarity shouldn’t be at risk since you cannot detect or see if it has any internal flaws, but the reverse is the case. Diamonds with enhanced clarity has been treated by laser drilling or fracture filling; this makes them more susceptible to crack when you clean with an ultrasonic cleaner so, you need to avoid ultrasonic in such cases.
You may also need to avoid the use of ultrasonic with some colored diamonds. This is because most of these type of diamonds has undergone some kinds of treatment to boost their color. Base on the treatment given to this type of diamonds, cleaning them in an ultrasonic machine can undo the color effect, and make the hues less vivid. So, unless you are certain that the effect of the color enhancement treatment given to your diamond will hold, do not risk cleaning it in an ultrasonic machine.
Can I Clean Other Jewelry or Gemstones with an Ultrasonic Machine?
Yes. Some jewelry made of precious metals such as platinum, silver, white gold and gold is safe to clean with an ultrasonic machine. Pandora charms, as well as glass and plastic jewelry, are also safe as long as there is no leather on them. Hard gemstones such as Cubic Zirconia, topaz, garnets, sapphires, and rubies clean up well. They are safely cleaned if they have little or no inclusions, have no coating, and have not undergone any treatment with chemicals or heat.
However, there are some metals and gemstones that you should not clean in an ultrasonic cleaner as they might get damaged. When you buy any piece of jewelry, make sure you ask the jeweler whether it is safe to clean it with a portable ultrasonic machine or not. This is because some jewelry might contain unsuitable gems or alloys, or the gemstones might have been treated thereby increasing its susceptibility to damages.
You can also seek the advice of your jeweler on the pieces you already own or allow an experienced cleaner to handle the cleaning aspect for you.
What Metal or Gemstones Should You Avoid Cleaning with An Ultrasonic Machine?
Most metals can be safely cleaned in an ultrasonic cleaner. However, tungsten should be avoided as it can get damaged during the cleaning process.
Not all gemstones are eligible for ultrasonic cleaning. Generally, the higher the brittleness of a stone, the higher its susceptibility to damages in an ultrasonic jewelry cleaner. You should avoid cleaning stones like Turquoise, Lazuli, Lapis, Tanzanite, Opal, Onyx, and Emerald with an ultrasonic device as the vibrations and heat can cause damages to them.
Moreover, most of those stones have undergone some treatment to enhance their color and beauty, thus making them more prone to damage. You should also avoid cleaning gemstones that have been coated with other substances or those whose cracks have been filled with oil or other substances using this method.
Pearls and organic gemstones such as coral and amber should be avoided as they can get damaged or partially dissolved during the ultrasonic cleaning process. Ultrasonic cleaning is only safe for untreated and durable gemstones; whatever gemstone or metal your jewelry is made of, ask your jeweler if it is safe to use an ultrasonic device on it.
What Liquid or Cleaning Solution Should You Use?
We recommend the use of water since it is an excellent solvent, nonflammable, nontoxic, more economical, and environmentally friendly. However, you can add an extra cleaner if you want to. If you must add an extra cleaner, it is best to use a few drops of dishwashing liquid or water-based detergent which is inexpensive and great for breaking up oil and grease.
In a water-based solution, the cavitation energy is higher than in an organic solvent. Also, in cleaning solutions without the dishwashing liquid or detergent, the surface tension is higher, thus making hard-to-reach areas difficult to clean. The addition of detergent or dishwashing liquid will reduce the surface tension and aid the loosening of the bond between the contaminant and the substrate.
Cleaning Your Jewelry with Ultrasonic Cleaners
If you want to clean your jewelry all by yourself using an ultrasonic machine, you need to have all the necessary supplies and follow the right instructions especially if you are new to ultrasonic cleaning. Find the guide, instructions and the supplies required for ultrasonic cleaning below.
The supplies needed for ultrasonic cleaning
Ultrasonic jewelry cleaner such as a Sonic Soak
Cleaning solution (water-based detergent or dishwasher liquid)
The jewelry you want to clean
How to Clean Your Jewelry with Ultrasonic Cleaners – step by step guide
Step 1: wear your protective gloves. Fill the tank of your ultrasonic cleaning device with water. (You may add a tablespoon of ammonia solution to the water, but you must be very careful not to add excess as it can damage your jewelry). Mix your cleaning solution with the water in your ultrasonic tank.
Step 2: Run your ultrasonic device for about 5 minutes so that the cleaner mixes well with the water in the tank. Set the device base on your desired temperature and time for cleaning. The amount of time you should allow your jewelry to stay in the ultrasonic cleaner can vary between 1 to 20 minutes or more, based on how dirty it is.
Step 3: Place your jewelry in the ultrasonic basket and ensure that it is well spaced out. Do not put in too many pieces of jewelry at a time to avoid scratching your jewelry. Make sure the jewelry does not have direct contact with the base of the machine. De-gas the machine to remove the air bubbles before you start the cleaning processes. You can refer to the instruction manual of your ultrasonic jewelry cleaner for directions.
Step 4: Run your ultrasonic device and allow your dirty piece of jewelry to stay in the machine for as long as needed. When the device’s timer goes off, allow the jewelry to sit for about 10 minutes to allow the grime and dirt to settle. Rinse the ultrasonic basket with your jewelry in it in clean cold water.
Step 5: Take out the jewelry, and if possible, clean briefly with a soft brush to remove any residual dirt. Rinse it again and dry with a soft cloth.
Now that you understand how an ultrasonic cleaner work, how to use it, the jewelry it can clean and what you should avoid, it’s high time you shopped for your own. I would recommend a Sonic Soak because it is gentler on your items to avoid any damage that can negatively affect your investment. On the alterative, you can use an ultrasonic cleaner for jewelry by taking it to your jeweler, where experienced cleaners can access its safety or fix it should it get damaged.